In El Paredon there is a severe lack of education in regards to the importance of the environment and the hugely damaging effects of waste, both in regards to the natural ecosystems of the area, but also to local livelihoods. La Choza Chula is therefore working to help tackle that problem, trying to change the local mentality for future generations to come. Aside from running our eco-tours and increasing our environmental education activities, including our constant use of recycled materials as educational materials in both the library and secondary school, we have also run some specific environmental projects.
Secondary School Garden
In Guatemala 50% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition – the 4th highest figure in the world. On top of that, only 25% of the population cultivate their own fruit and vegetables, with 65% of the population only eating fruit and vegetable once a week. This is exacerbated in El Paredon, where there is limited opportunity to buy fruit and vegetables in the village, with a fresh food truck coming just once a week.
To counter this issue La Choza Chula teamed up with previous Surf for Life (now called Hope Corps) volunteers, Lynne Zaledonis and Justine Crosby Galloway, to build a garden at the secondary school. The idea behind the garden was to teach the students about the importance of nutrition, the environment, how to build and maintain a garden, and then how to grow their own crops. Moreover the produce would be used to sell within the community, raising money for the school in the process.
Lynn and Justine raised £3751 for the project, going into the building and maintenance of the garden, whilst also helping with the construction of the project, working alongside the secondary school students. Once the garden was built, a garden committee of 7 students was set up, who were made responsible for the continuation of the garden. As part of this project La Choza Chula organised trips to IMAP (Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute) at Lake Atitlan and Caoba Farms in Antigua, whilst also bringing Atitlan Organics down to El Paredon, to further increase the student’s education on the subject.
Over the coming year we plan to work on the sustainability of the garden and have hired a graduated student, Beberly Calderon, to help manage the garden, whilst also bringing in more permaculture workshops to help further raise the secondary school students education on permaculture and the importance of nutrition.
El Paredon is home to 10% of all mangroves in Guatemala, yet deforestation of the mangroves is happening at a rapid rate. In the last five years we have lost 100 hectares of mangrove forest. For generations the mangroves have provided the local population with food, construction materials and their livelihoods. It is also an essential ecosystem for local wildlife and protecting us against natural disasters and extreme weather.
However, with the increase in population and tourism, the mangroves are struggling to survive. Our ‘Mangrove Month’ project aimed to raise awareness about the importance of the mangrove ecosystem and how we can protect them effectively. During the project the library was brought to life with practical and fun workshops focussed on discussing and exploring the problem of the deforestation of the mangrove forest. We then took a group of volunteers into the mangroves and planted 10,000 mangrove seeds.
Experts such as representatives from ICC (Institute for Climate Change) and CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas) visited to give the students more information. Volunteers delivered art classes within the mangroves and the students took part in an international calendar artwork competition. On the day of our beach clean up (see below) we put on an exhibition of all the work done during the month.
Over the coming year we will continue to work on the protection of the mangroves, through our community tourism project, all the while supporting CONAP, the local environment organisation in their efforts to protect and conserve the mangrove ecosystem. .
Big Beach Clean Ups
To complete our ‘Mangrove Month’, La Choza Chula held its first Big Beach Clean Up on the 29th June, to help clean the beach and hidden mangrove dumps from the waste that had been building up. Without a proper disposal system in El Paredon, a large amount of waste ends up being dumped in the mangroves or lining the beach. This is exacerbated due to El Paredon’s location and the fact that all waste that is dumped in the river upstream, ends up on the beach here. This includes a hospital that has been dumping needles, syringes and more ending up on the beach.
The beach clean up was organised to counter that, working alongside the community and a wide variety of Guatemalan organizations, including our main partner GuatePassport.. A coach load of volunteers came down from the city and together with volunteers from the community we cleaned the beach and mangroves, collecting over 100 bags of rubbish, that were then recycled. This was repeated on the 14th of October and on the 15th, this time in Empalizada, a small beach town near El Paredon.
On each day we ran environmental awareness activities and games, focussing on raising awareness in the village. Since the beach clean ups, the local government has increased their involvement in environmental issues, with one part of El Paredon now running clean ups twice a week. In the future however we will be exploring more sustainable, long term solutions.